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Help from beyond the graveyard

I have relatives all over the world. Literally. Obviously most of my close relatives are live in the Chicago area, but many other close and distant relatives stayed for decades in Chicago’s wonderful climate and then decided that once they retired, they would move to California, Florida, Arizona, Nevada etc. (I noticed nobody moved to the Yukon!) I have many relatives in Italy, naturally, but I also have some in France, a handful in Brazil and Argentina, and an entire group in Australia.

Thanks to social media, I am able to keep track with some of these international cousins and the events going on in their families. Once in a while, they post that a relative has passed away and I mark it in my family tree file.

Part of my process is that I visit the gravesites of as many of these distant relatives as I can. This is done for many reasons, mostly to see if there is anything on the grave or crypt marker that I didn’t know, or maybe a photo. I can look at the graves surrounding the person that I am looking for, in case there are other relatives buried nearby that I didn’t know about.

Despite my regular visits to All Saints in Des Plaines, Mount Carmel and Queen of Heaven in Hillside, Maryhill and St. Adalbert in Niles, and St. Joseph in River Grove, and dozens of others, there are far too many grave sites I cannot visit due to distance. I have driven as far northwest as Rockford, and as far south as Elwood (south of Joliet). As much as I would like to go there myself and see the site and look around for other people, it is sometimes not worth the travel and time to do so.

A few months ago, a website was redesigned that has made it much easier to get help with grave photos. I have mentioned it in a number of columns before but it’s worth knowing the resources available in www.findagrave.com.

Many people believe that findagrave is a site to look up grave locations, but sadly this is not so. Most cemeteries, especially corporate-owned, will not give away or sell their grave location database. The Chicago Archdiocese will not post their grave location database because they believe people will find a way to download and sell the entire database. So what does findagrave do? It is a place for people to post a memorial to a loved one. The memorial contains the name, dates and places of birth and death, the cemetery name (and a link to info and a map to find the cemetery itself) and the grave location if the creator of the memorial is so inclined. You can post photos of the loved one, and of the grave or crypt marker. The only limitation is that you cannot post a photo of the person that was taken of them deceased. (My aunt has a photo of her grandfather propped in a chair, dead, but with his eyes open, and his widow standing behind the chair. … Not sure if that photo would be allowed on the site!)

It is not required that you post a photo in your memorial. Anyone can contribute the photo and link it to the memorial. If there is no photo and you want someone to take a photo of that site, you click “Photo request” and it will make it known that a request has been made. Who gets notified? Well, as a findagrave member (the site is complete free but has ads) you can register as a person who will photograph cemeteries within 5 or 10 or 5 miles of your house, whatever distance you choose. So when someone asks for a photo from Diamond Lake Cemetery in Mundelein, I get an e-mail from findagrave to let me know, since that cemetery is only a few blocks away. There is no guarantee that anyone will fulfill the photo request, but if they want to take care of it, they mark the request “accepted” and no one else will see it. That way, ten different photographers won’t all take the same photo.

One thing to keep in mind is that if a grave is not marked at all, there is no way for anyone to fulfill the request. The person who accepts your request will mark that it cannot be fulfilled due to lack of a marker.

If you do not list the location of the grave within the cemetery and ask for a photo request, most photographers won’t bother. They have found out to their detriment that they go to the office and ask for nine unrelated grave locations so they can fill photo requests and the cemetery office refuses to help them. Since most of them are genealogists themselves, this may cost them access to locations they need for their own research. So unless the location is known, don’t expect too many photo requests to be filled. If a person accepts a photo request, and is denied by the cemetery, they post that in the request and it will be closed.

There is also a limit of twenty requests per member. Until you cancel a request, or someone fills it, you cannot ask for any more.

So when someone fills the request successfully, they post the photo to findagrave to that memorial, and you will receive an e-mail from findagrave that the photo has been posted. I have received photos from cemeteries as far as Fairbanks Alaska!! I will say that there are not a lot of findagrave records for Italy except for military cemeteries.

You can post a biography on the memorial also, and many people tell stores of their parents etc that cannot be found anywhere else. Many other people post the death notice or obituary. Keep in mind that the person who creates the memorial is the owner, and if you find a mistake in the data that is posted, you need to contact the owner to ask them to correct the data or the photo. You may also find more than one memorial for the same person, because the site cannot distinguish between Giuseppe De Natale born about 1885 in Bari and died Apil 1972 in Illinois, and Joe DiNatale, born April 9th 1884 in Valenzano, Bari, Puglia, died April 4th 1972 in Melrose Park, Cook Co., Illinois. If you create a memorial and then find another memorial to the same person, you can contact them through findagrave and ask them to combine memorials under one memorial number and which facts should be kept and which ones discarded.

The site was started by celebrity hounds who wanted to know where famous people were buried, and has gotten out of hand, with over 170 million memorials! Just realize that there is no guarantee that the person you’re looking for is on the site, but if they are, and someone has already taken a photo of the grave, you can save the grave photo and save yourself a long trip!

Write to Dan at italianroots@comcast.net and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.